Beware the Summit County pipelines
June 18, 2010
Had the Chevron pipeline that spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Red Butte Creek been damaged farther up the line, it could have polluted waterways in Summit County.
In fact, the same pipeline runs straight through the middle of the Swaner Eco Center and branches of it run across the northern tips of the Jordanelle Reservoir and near the Rockport Reservoir.
The area between Salt Lake City and Coalville is home to numerous pipes that transport fuel to Northern Utah communities.
A 2005 map of the state produced by the Utah Geological Survey reveals Chalk Creek to be northeast Utah’s most significant corridor for natural gas pipelines coming from Wyoming. Just east of Coalville the lines split, two going up to Ogden, two crossing the mountains to Centerville, and two running along I-80 before veering into East Canyon and eventually Emigration Canyon.
Chevron said the Red Butte Creek incident was a fluke. An electrical arc melted a 25-cent-coin-sized hole in the pipe.
Both local government officials and oil and natural gas companies say natural disasters like mud slides and minor earthquakes are planned for in the design and maintenance of the lines. The real threat to the pipes and the environment in Summit County comes from the risk of excavators and other human activity.
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"The only problems I’ve been involved with were from contractors cutting the line," said Summit County emergency manager Butch Swenson.
"Almost all our incidents are third-party damage," added Questar Gas spokesman Chad Jones. "We’ve got to get folks to call 811 (Blue Stakes) before they dig."
"The incident we had here in Salt Lake City was incredibly unique," said Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson. "People using backhoes is generally the most common way we have pipelines injured."
People who live or work near the pipelines say they have confidence in the companies that maintain them and feel safe.
Nell Larson, director of land and conservation for the Swaner Eco Center said Chevron monitors the line every year.
"We have a pretty good working relationship with Chevron and we think they’d let us know if there was any concern," she said.
Dwayne Schmidt, mayor of Coalville, said there’s work going on now on a pipe on the north side of town.
"Overall, the companies do a good job with safety and maintenance," he said. "There’s always that potential. I feel like the companies that run through Coalville do a good job being good stewards to the community.
Laurie Backus, park manager at Jordanelle State Park, said her staff is trained to look for and identify problems with the pipe running to the north and how to contact the company to shut it off or come investigate.
Chevron’s Johnson said he and his coworkers live in Utah and treasure the natural environment the same as everyone else.
Someone with the company flies over the lines weekly to monitor them. Every few years a "smart pig" device is run through the pipes internally to check for corrosion.
Natural gas is lighter than air so leakage dissipates into the air, Jones said. Outside of Coalville, Questar’s lines are infused with an unpleasant odorant so people living or working near the lines can smell leakage. The odorant also kills plants, creating a warning signal for problems below ground, he said.
If there is a problem, Swenson encourages people to immediately call 911. A fire-fighting crew would likely be the first responders who would try to contain the spill before the Wasatch Back hazmat team arrived. Police and fire crews would then work to keep people away from the leakage. that time, the company would likely take over efforts to stop, repair and clean up the damage, he said.
View Pipelines near Coalville in a larger map